The Lion King (2019): The Worst Disney Remake
Films can elicit a huge variety of emotions from us. Some make us cry, some make us laugh. Some confuse and intrigue us, others excite and inspire us. Whatever the film, you know that it will always provoke a reaction in one way or another, positive or negative.
But then there are a small collection of films that do not do any of these things, films that are so empty and vapid and just downright devoid of any artistic merit that they commit the worst sin possible: they bore us. 2019’s The Lion King is one of these films.
On an unbearably humid Wednesday afternoon, I sat in a packed screening surrounded by noisy families eating foul-smelling nachos and guzzling diabetes-triggering fizzy drinks and I genuinely didn’t even care. This is when you know a film has transcended the boundaries of entertainment, when a normally horrendous movie-going experience is actually preferable to what is happening on screen.
The biggest talking point surrounding this latest Disney remake has been about the “photorealistic” CGI work that the film is built on. Through the work of VFX team Moving Picture Company (who previously worked on Favreau’s remake of The Jungle Book), the 2D animation of traditional Disney films has been transformed into near-lifelike footage that seeks to resemble the high-definition look of a nature documentary. And, credit where credit is due, it does look impressive. That is, until the animals begin to talk.
It just looks so unnatural to see these realistic animals talking, and it falls so quickly into the uncanny valley that the film is doomed from the start. Even worse, characters display such a lack of emotion that expressionless doesn’t even begin to describe it. It strips the film of any possible dramatic tension at all: remember when Simba witnessed his father’s death with a look of neutral passivity? Or when Scar fought with Simba at the climax of the film and each character was indistinguishable from each other in a "Michael Bay Transformers-style type of way where it's impossible to follow just what the hell is going on?
The whole charm of Disney and animation in general is that it channelled imaginative and colourful storytelling, bold and memorable visuals, and above all, a huge amount of charm. So when you strip this all away in favour of a bland, visually uninspired colour palette and realistic looking animals, you lose the whole point of the film. It is a complete mis-match of visual stylings and storytelling, confining Disney’s much-loved and creative tales (although obviously The Lion King is largely based on Hamlet) to this dull grey CGI scape.
And for a film relying largely on its voice acting, it’s shocking to find that almost everyone in this all-star cast is completely phoning it in. Donald Glover as grown-up Simba is frankly awful as a voice actor (clearly only hired for his musical talent) and Beyoncé as Nala fares little better. I’m not sure why they bothered getting James Earl Jones back to play Mufasa as he barely bothers to deliver lines, while John Oliver as Zazu delivers forced banter in painfully unfunny fashion. Only Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as Timon and Pumbaa actually seem to care about their performances here, delivering the film’s sole highlights with their amped-up presences.
By the time The Lion King had descended into a ploddingly dull third act battle that lacked any excitement or tension whatsoever, I had long checked out. Uninspired, uninteresting and unoriginal, it is everything wrong with Disney and remake/sequel culture in general. I’ve never felt more guilty of paying to see a film, and contributing to its colossal box office success that will continue through the next several months. God help us all.